The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

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The Breadwinner: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Once Ali and Maryam fall asleep, Mother settles them on the floor. Quietly, Mother, Nooria, and Parvana clean up and lie down to sleep. Parvana can’t sleep. To her, every noise is either the Taliban or Father returning, and she wonders what prison is like. She remembers Mother saying that a person isn’t truly Afghan if they don’t know someone who’s been to prison; Afghanistan regularly puts enemies in prison. Suddenly, Parvana bolts upright and tells Mother they must light a lamp for Father so he can get home. Mother, however, points out that Father doesn’t have his walking stick and can’t walk home.
Even when things are objectively bad, Mother suggests that Afghans can still find ways to take pride in their country. She suggests that resistance is, in a way, part of the Afghan experience. This helps Parvana begin to think of other ways to resist, and it helps her start to make sense of Father’s arrest.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Parvana stays awake all night, staring at the one small window. It’s high on the wall, so Father refused to paint it black when the Taliban ordered everyone paint their windows to obscure the women inside. Finally, at dawn, she, Mother, and Nooria get up quietly. Nooria begins to heat water for tea, but Mother stops her—she and Parvana are going to get Father out of jail. Since buses can’t carry women without a male escort, Mother and Parvana must walk the whole way. The Taliban might still stop them, though, so Parvana asks Nooria to write Mother a note. Mother refuses to carry it so Parvana tucks it in her sleeve. Nooria whispers that she’s not sure it will help, since most of the Taliban can’t read. Nooria uncharacteristically hugs Parvana.
The revelation that most of the Taliban cannot read makes it clear that the Taliban rule through fear and violence, not through reason. They and Parvana’s family are, in many ways, speaking entirely different languages. Mother’s unwillingness to take the note speaks to her pride and her unwillingness to bend to the Taliban’s demands. While this may make her feel revolutionary and rebellious, however, her daughters are aware that this puts them all in danger of arrest or worse. Nooria and Parvana may be better at working within the system to get by.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Parvana wraps her chador around her head and follows Mother outside. She helps Mother down the stairs and Mother takes off into the streets. Parvana rushes behind; all the women look the same in their burqas and she doesn’t want to lose Mother. Occasionally, Mother stops and shows people a photo of Father. Photographs are illegal, but people just shake their heads. Lots have people have been arrested; they know what she’s asking.
The reactions of everyone who sees the photograph drives home just how common it is for men like Father to be arrested. This passage implies that Mother is one of many women on the lookout for a lost husband or family member. This has become part of the Afghan experience.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Finally, after a long walk, Mother and Parvana reach Pul-i-Charkhi Prison. It’s a scary place. Parvana reminds herself that Malali wouldn’t be afraid and notes that Mother at least looks unafraid. Mother marches up to a guard and says she’s here for her husband. She brandishes her photograph and though the guards say nothing, more gather. Parvana hears Father’s voice in her head calling her Malali, and she begins to shout for Father as well. Finally, a soldier snatches the photograph and tears it up and another begins beating Mother. He tells her to go home. Another solider hits Parvana. When Parvana falls to the ground, she quickly gathers the pieces of the photograph. She then leaps up, says they’ll go, and helps Mother up. They hobble home.
Mother is in a burqa, so it’s impossible to see her facial expression and to fully gauge her body language, but her bravery and boldness nevertheless shines through. Her bravery—plus the story of Malali—is what emboldens Parvana to fight back against the soldiers.
Themes
Gender Relations Theme Icon
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